Chris Donovan wanted to be a congressman. Now he's the reluctant star of a federal court multimedia show on corrupt practices, featuring a colorful lineup of bums and goodfella wannabes.
Donovan lost the congressional seat he wanted to Elizabeth Esty, who — in the words of The Courant's Jon Lender "accepted tens of thousands of dollars from … contributors who work in the industries regulated by her husband," the state's Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection Dan Esty. Lately, La Esty has been returning the contributions most blatantly connected to matters pending before Le Esty.
Does it seem like maybe something is wrong here?
Donovan's mess is bigger because his lame-brained crew got caught breaking the one rule in the otherwise freewheeling feces-tossing monkey house of American politics. You can take campaign money and then wire up government business to benefit the people who gave it to you. But you can't carve out an openly stated agreement to do that.
That's why Esty is currently living in a "Gilmore Girls" episode set in D.C. and Donovan was standing outside a courthouse last week explaining to the press and a hot dog vendor what "I took care of you, didn't I?" means.
A lot hinges on those words, spoken by Donovan to Ray Soucy, the case's thing-who-crawled-out-from-under-a-rock. Soucy is a former corrections officer and union official who went from low-wattage mastermind of a criminal conspiracy to arrested-and-therefore-cooperating informant to star witness at the trial of Robert Braddock Jr., who was Donovan's campaign finance director.
Soucy, wearing more wires than a surge protector, accosted Donovan at his nominating convention after a plan to tax roll-your-own tobacco shops died a quiet, ambiguous death. The seven people indicted in this case were involved in the transfer of money from the cigarette people to Donovan's congressional campaign.
The feds were hoping Soucy would catch Donovan admitting that he killed the bill. Before anything else is said, Donovan greets Soucy with "I took care of you, didn't I?"
Donovan's somewhat hilarious explanation is that this is an all-purpose salutation, like the famous speech in "Donnie Brasco" when Johnny Depp's character lays out the many elastic meanings of "forget about it." The thing is, Donovan is right. Politicians will take credit for almost anything. "How about this great weather? I took care of you, didn't I?"
Soucy, handling his assignment with all the finesse of a junkyard car crusher, tells Donovan his people are grateful, hence the $20,000 in contributions plus another $10,000 on the way, "for killing the bill." This completely spooks the deer and Donovan bolts off into the underbrush, saying, "I didn't kill the bill. I worked on the legislative side. I did the right thing."
Translation: "Are you wearing a wire or something?"
Soucy seems to be one of the very few people to have watched "The Sopranos" and yearned to be Paulie Walnuts. He is certainly one of the 20 remaining nonfictional Americans to use "10 large" to mean "ten thousand." But the net impression of the testimony at the Braddock trial was closer to "Bugsy Malone," the 1976 film in which children pretended to be gangsters.
Scurrying parallel to Donovan's circus was Larry Cafero, the Republican leader in the House. My colleague Kevin Rennie showed earlier this week how Cafero was caught in a lie. Soucy put $5,000 in cash in Cafero's refrigerator. Cafero insisted it be taken out — a Healthy Choice! — and his aide persuaded Soucy to convert it to a leaner cuisine of five checks, each for one large, to Republican political action committees. When the Braddock scandal broke, Cafero pretended he had only recently been made aware of this sum.
Forget about it! Here is the important subtext. Nobody in these cases — including the Estys and including lower-ranking House leadership — is unfamiliar with the basic dynamic. You give money to campaigns and you get treated better than the chumps who don't. This is going to be very hard to change in federal elections because of the creepy, overreaching, legislating-from-the-bench Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
Meanwhile, in the immortal — and uncharacteristically true — words of Ray Soucy, caught on an FBI tape, if the public knew what state Capitol politicians would do for a $10,000 contribution, "they'd burn the place down."
Colin McEnroe appears from 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays on WNPR-FM (90.5) and blogs at http://courantblogs.com/colin-mcenroe/. He can be reached at Colin@wnpr.org.Copyright © 2015, CT Now